Children's Amendment Bill & Children's Second Amendment Bill: Departmental briefings

Social Development

05 August 2015
Chairperson: Ms C Capa (ANC)
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Meeting Summary

The Department of Social Development (DSD) introduced the Children's Amendment Bill and the Children's Second Amendment Bill to the Committee. The Children's Amendment Bill was seeking to introduce the following main amendments:

  • To insert a definition of sexual offence, thereby aligning the Children’s Act to the Sexual Offences Act.

  • To create a deeming provision in section 120, thereby making it easier to detect adult offenders unsuitable to work with children

  • To amend section 150 in order to clarify the requirements for finding an orphaned or abandoned child in need of care and protection

  • To amend section 152 to provide for a judicial review of a decision to remove a child without a court order.

The Children's Second Amendment Bill sought to introduce the following main amendments

  • To extend the definition of "adoption social worker" to include social workers in the employ of the state, to enable them to do adoptions

  • To amend sections 151 and 152 so as to provide a speedy review mechanism to remove a child, using an interim order and placing him or her in temporary safe care

  • To amend section 171 by empowering the provincial Head of Social Development to transfer a person placed in alternative care as a child, who had remained in alternative care after having reached the age of 18, from alternative care to another

  • To amend section 176(2)(b), by replacing the words "education and training" with "grade 12, higher education, further education and training" so as to clarify what was intended and in order to empower the provincial Head of Social Development to extend an alternative care placement for persons who were still doing their secondary and tertiary education

Members asked the extent to which these two bills were aligned to the Child Justice Act and the Sexual Offences Act. They also asked the extent to which the amendments were expected to facilitate an increase in adoption rates, as the Children's Act had been blamed for a decrease in adoption rates. Members also noted with concern that the Department did not have the required number of social workers to implement even the Children's Act, let alone any further legislation, and that requests for additional funding to put more social workers in place had been rejected by National Treasury. They asked for the differences between fully qualified and auxiliary social workers to be explained, and to clarify who was presently allowed to deal with adoptions and how this would be done in future. Members wondered if it was in the best interests of a person in need of care after 18 years to move them, and some statistics were quoted of those who, under adoption, were in tertiary education. Members asked for clarity whether the Department had the capacity to implement and pointed out that there would have to be closer alignment with other legislation to ensure that the Bills catered properly for children in conflict with the law, questioned age restrictions in safe houses, and it was noted that the Committee may wish to invite input from others during the public hearings process.

Members adopted the Committee programme, minutes of 24 June, discussed the possibility of joint meetings with the NCOP committee, and noted concerns about a Limpopo old age facility that would be conveyed to that MEC for Social Development. 

Meeting report

Children Amendment Bill: Department of Social Development briefing
Mr Siyabonga Shozi, Director: Legal Services, Department of Social Development, introduced the Children Amendment Bill (the Bill) and the Children Second Amendment Bill (Bill 2) to the Committee.

The Bill was seeking to introduce the following main amendments to the Children’s Act

  • To insert the definition of "sexual offence", thereby aligning the Children’s Act to the Criminal Law (Sexual Offences and Related Matters) Act.

  • To create a deeming provision in section 120, thereby making it easier to detect adult offenders unsuitable to work with children

  • To amend section 150, in order to clarify the requirements for finding an orphaned or abandoned child in need of care and protection

  • To amend section 152 to provide for a judicial review of a decision to remove a child without a court order.

Children second Amendment Bill

He noted that the Bill 2 sought to introduce the following main amendments

  • To extend the definition of "adoption social " to include social workers in the employ of the state, to enable them to do adoptions

  • To amend sections 151 and 152 so as to provide a speedy review to remove a child, using an interim order, and placing him or her in temporary safe care

  • To amend section 171 by empowering the provincial Head of Social Development to transfer a person placed in alternative care as a child, who had remained in alternative care after having reached the age of 18, from one form of alternative care to another

  • To amend section 176(2)(b), by replacing the words "education and training" with "grade 12, higher education, further education and training" so as to clarify what was intended and in order to empower the provincial Head of Social Development to extend an alternative care placement in respect of persons who were still doing their secondary and tertiary education.

Discussion

Ms S Tsoleli (ANC) said further education and training had been replaced by Technical Vocational Education and Training Colleges (TVETs).

Ms Tsoleli asked if involvement with adoption was only centralised to social workers, and was excluding teachers and youth carers. She asked if the amendment to section 176(2)(b) would allow the Head of Department to extend the care after someone reached 18 years of age, pointing out that the Department of Social Development (DSD) was mainly involved only with those below 18 years old.

Ms Tsoleli asked for clarity on how the two Bills were related to the Child Justice Act. She was pleased with the amendments, as this showed progress in attempting to protect the child by including sexual offences, and not having to wait for a court order to remove a child. The question was whether the DSD had facilities to place the child, since it was reported that most care centres were full.

The Chairperson asked how DSD was going to implement the Bill and whether budget was available.

Ms H Malgas (ANC) said the Bills did not speak to children in conflict with the law. She also asked how, after a child reached 18, these Bills would enable an extension of the Child Support Grant.

Ms E Wilson (DA) asked why DSD wanted to remove a child from his/her comfort zone after that child had reached the age of 18.

Ms Wilson suggested that the Bill should use the specific words "qualified social workers" and not "auxiliary social workers" or any other term that referred to somebody who had not undergone the full social work training. Social workers in the Department of Health were also trained and mandated to deal with the mental state of children who might be in conflict with the law.

Ms B Abrahams (ANC) asked if there was any age restriction for safe houses, particularly for those involved in drug abuse.

Ms L Van Der Merwe (IFP) said the Children's Act had been blamed for the decrease in adoption rates. She asked to what extent the DSD was now satisfied that these amendments would result in an increase of adoption rates, going forward.

The Committee Secretary noted that this was the first briefing to the Committee by the DSD, and if the Committee felt that it needed still to invite other stakeholders, it could do so during public hearings. The parliamentary legal advisors would be able to guide the Committee so that it would not infringe on another sphere of government. She also commented that the time for substitution of words or phrases, or addition of any wording, would stand over until later, and at that stage the Committee could look at the Bills clause by clause.

Ms Connie Nxumalo, Deputy Director General: Social Welfare Services, DSD, replied that the Bill referred to "social workers" because this was set out as the function of "social workers" in the principal Act; the only organisations that were empowered were organisations that keep children, and private social workers.

Ms Tsoleli asked if DSD had qualified social workers. She asked the DSD to clarify the difference between auxiliary social workers and social workers, and to clarify what the Council of Social Work had to say on the issue.

Ms Wilson repeated her concern that only qualified accredited social workers should deal with this.

Ms Nxumalo clarified that auxiliary social workers were regarded as support staff, and they were not sent to court. They were regulated with the Social Service Council, with a clear with a clear job description. "Accredited" social workers were registered and qualified social workers. Auxiliary social workers were not qualified social workers. A qualified social worker usually has five support auxiliary social workers workers with them.

Ms Shozi added that there were regulations set by the Council that determined who could provide adoption, even though someone might also be employed by the state.

Ms Nxumalo replied that if a child was in foster care, and the foster care parent died, the HOD was empowered to make sure that the child finished education. The courts sometimes would ask "what is education?" and this amendment has added in a specific reference to Grade 12, professional training and higher education and FET colleges. There may not be many children in such situations, but it was deemed sensible to clarify this wording in case something did happen to adoptive parents.

The Chairperson said that when the Committee was doing oversight, in some Christian and private care organisations, it was told that some of the children were already in universities.

Ms Tsoleli said that secure care centres were temporary and not permanent shelters, and children were allowed to stay there only between six to twelve months, but no more. A secure care centre was a place somewhere between Department of Social Development and Department of Justice supervision and support. She again asked if section 171 will apply to those in conflict with the law.

Ms Nxumalo replied that secure care centres, of places of care were called "Child and Youth Care Centres" and that they were regulated through the Children's Act. However, they differed in the type of programmes they provided. Secure care centres were regarded as temporary, and were specifically for those awaiting trial, and keeping a child there could also be used as a sentence option, since a child could be sentenced to two years at a care centre. The current amendment would empower the Head of Social Development to extend anything regulated by the Children's Act.

Mr Shozi replied that the Department would be taking on board the alignment also with the Child Justice Act and Sexual Offences Act as a homework. The DSD hoped these amendments would help increase adoption rates. The Bills sought also to address two other issues, which were court issue and visitation and access issues. The DSD had a smaller pool of social workers.

Ms Nxumalo added that at present, adoption was being handled by accredited Child Protection Centres and private social workers. They were some tedious processes that they needed to follow to ensure that adoptions were finalised. This Bill was now introducing a free service, by introducing also the possibility of using social workers in the employ of the state. The applicants would not pay anything under that approach. The DSD was also looking at reducing the timelines, because currently it could take six to twelve months for an adoption case to be finalised. Most clients were complaining about fees which they paid for these adoption cases to be finalised.

The Chairperson said she had heard that the number of children in need of adoption was increasing but it seemed the process could potentially discourage potential adopters.

Ms S Kopane (DA) said many parents were willing to adopt, but the systems in place in government did take time. Some of them did not mind paying. Her main concern was that the proper implementation of the Child Protection Act ideally required 66 000 social workers. DSD did not even have that number of social workers in its employ, not to mention needing others to implement other pieces of legislation. The DSD must start to realise that its main problem was simply not having enough social workers.

The Chairperson said National Treasury must know what was required to implement this legislation.

Ms van der Merwe said she had read horror stories of people who had been trying to adopt for over three years. In another instance, the prospective adoptive parents indicated that it cost them over R100 000 before adoption was finalised. The DSD was, however, denied its request for additional funding to bring more adoptive social workers into its system.

Other business
Programme adoption

The Committee adopted the third term Committee program,e

Minute adoption
The Committee adopted the minutes of 24 June 2015.

Meetings
The Committee proposed having a joint sitting with the NCOP on Social Services and the Portfolio Committee on Justice, to discuss matters of common interest with regards to these two bills. Members did not decide on appropriate dates during the meeting.

Minister's input
Ms Wilson said there was a crisis in Limpopo at one old age home which was closing down as a result of funding not being received for more than two quarters, and not being able to afford to feed the aged residents. She requested the Chairperson to invite the MEC for Social Development of that Province, urgently, to this Committee. If this was not attended to, the matter was likely to be referred to the South African Human Rights Commission (SAHRC) and she did not want to see charges being laid.

The Chairperson said she had had many interactions with the Chairperson of the Select Committees on Social Services, looking into how the two committees might best integrate work. She would respond to Ms Wilson’s request as soon as possible.

The meeting was adjourned. 

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